Why waste collaboration is so important in wine industry

At the recent Waste Strategy Summit held in Sydney, Tim Hackett from South Australia wine maker, Henschke, spoke about how the wine industry came together to find solutions to packaging and waste issues. 

As well as being the QSE Manager for Henschke, Hackett is the chair of the Wine Industry Sustainable Packaging Alliance, or WISPA as it is known among its members. It is a collaborative group of individuals formed by a group of wineries, which was assisted in terms of set up by the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO). Its focus is to solve packaging sustainability issues that surround the industry. It is seen as a collaborative rather than competitive entity. One of the key elements is that all members realise that packaging and the waste it causes are a priority that needs addressing. 

“In 2018, APCO reached out to the wine industry about sustainable packaging, and we visited a Visy MRF. I had asked APCO to help me try and establish a similar group a few years earlier, but the timing wasn’t right, so it didn’t happen,” said Hackett. “On this occasion in 2018, a workshop was established, and after looking at some of the things that could be done by our industry, we ended up doing a brainstorming session. From that, we established some projects we could consider and work on as a group and assigned individual responsibilities. Some great ideas came out of that session.”

They met regularly to discuss the progress of each project and by 2019 the group had already evolved to include new members such as suppliers and other interested parties. They met again for a second workshop to finalise some existing projects and to come up with some new ones.

When COVID hit, as with most industries, meetings were done online, and a management team was formed. In late 2021, WISPA met – mostly in person – and discussed other projects they could initiate.

“We closed out most of the projects we brought about from 2018 and 2019. This year we are planning to formalise the alliances’ structure, establish a website for both public and member access for information, and have a membership drive so we are more of a national body,” said Hackett.

Projects that the organisation are championing included: sustainable packaging guidelines for suppliers; industry transparency on recycled content; packaging assessments – glass and cardboard; reducing stretch wrap; a glass stewardship study; and a glassine paper recycling initiative.

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“These are initiatives by certain sectors in the industry. The packaging assessments for example were put together by a specific brand owner – something physical in terms of guidance came out of that. Similar to the sustainable guidelines for suppliers,” said Hackett.

The Barossa Recycling Project
One of the initial projects the association put together was to improve the recycling of packaging waste at production facilities in the Barossa while at the same time assist small wineries with packaging sustainability initiatives. They were not trying to just benefit the wine arena, but the whole community. 

“I put forward the idea in 2018 when the group of wineries came together on that first occasion,” he said. “Besides Henschke, others that wanted to be involved were Pinnacle Drinks, Pernod Ricard and Yalumba. Other stakeholders that were approached and agreed to be part of the project were the local Barossa and Light Councils, Green Industries SA, Colby Philips Advisory who provided a report for us, and the various waste and recycling services provided in the Barossa.”

Some packaging waste generated by wineries and bottling plants are hard to recycle due to the low volumes and limited end markets. This is not an issue for bigger wineries as they have better economies of scale.

Aggregating the hard-to-recycle materials at a regional drop off would make collection for recycling more attractive by increasing quantities and improving collection efficiency. WISPA gained some funding through Green Industry SA’s LEAP program and that funding was used to put together a report about where those holes were in the recycling chain. It also helped provide a plan moving forward as to how they might improve on those processes.

“By February 2019 we met to start the process off,” said Hackett. “In March we discussed it with the regional development association of Barossa, and they agreed to help with the project. In April 2019, I attended a council meeting with their waste committee during which we learned of a council project that was already happening with a group called The Fathers Farm. They were receiving help from council to aggregate some problematic waste. They were having issues with electronic waste, which wasn’t part of our waste stream, but we decided to adopt a similar methodology.”

By June WISPA had come up with a plan, a mission and goals to move forward. By August both councils had agreed to engage with the association in the project and take it to their meetings for discussion.  

Later that year WISPA engaged Colby Philips and they put together an application for the funding that would fund Colby Philips’ report. 

“It was an interesting approach using the consultants to put forward the application so they could get paid because we didn’t have the ability to do that ourselves,” said Hackett.

“By 2020, wineries had submitted reports to support the project, which they needed to do to gain the funding. The Regional Development Association had agreed to put their name on the funding because none of us as individual wineries wanted to run the project. We wanted an external party to take it on because we didn’t want to be seen as pushing one winery’s view above the others.”

In 2020, a survey was sent out to all of the Barossa wineries to get their feedback and a report was put together. In February 2021, a workshop was conducted where the report was put forward to the community. Hackett said there was a massive turnout at a public forum where their feedback was taken into consideration. Now the association is looking to action some of the points of the report. 

Overall, Hackett is happy with how WISPA has created a collaborative environment in what would otherwise be considered a competitive industry. In his opinion, getting together is absolutely necessary to succeed.

“Working with your competitors on such things as sustainability is important to gain industry-wide success especially for small players like Henschke,” he said. “We would not have been able to achieve some of the things we have without the help of others in our industry. It has been key to our success.

“We are now starting our fifth year. For those that are at the start of their journey, I say don’t be afraid to reach out to others in your industry for assistance. 

“WISPA 2.0 will be a more formal organisation with a paid subscription, as well as a website that will be launched to show what we can provide to others and provide resources. WISPA has been successful to date and will continue that success into the future. We want to create an industry road map to help guide future successes.

“We have inspired other industries to do the same including the dairy industry, who l believe has even surpassed WISPA in some areas of their plan moving forward. We plan to learn from their successes.”